99 Breaths

Getting Started with Your Meditation Journey

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Getting Started with Your Meditation Journey

I began my meditation journey over 50 years ago.  I had heard stories about people fighting to tame their monkey minds, but I had a far greater problem.  A troop of baboons had overrun my mind.

I started by taking short naps after being exhausted from long work and study days during my senior year in college. I would find a place that was quiet and dark. I tried to ensure I would not be disturbed or be too warm or cold.  I tried various tricks to keep focused, including mantras, as the Maharishi promoted the Transcendental Meditation movement back then.  Everything worked to some extent, and I was blessed that if I had worked or played hard that day, I would sometimes “pass out” for 20 minutes.

I soon stopped calling it my meditation and just called it my 20 minutes. You could set a clock by it. Later in life, my kids would have to observe that quiet time every day when I came home from work. But they seemed to have no problem with it. They would get my 110% attention when I finished my 20 minutes. And sometimes, at 19 minutes, they would already be on top of me.

I was amazed to get an extra four productive hours out of my day with just a 20-minute break. I did not discover until much later in life that many people had discovered this same path, all with differing approaches. Over time, I have studied many of these different methods to achieve the same result. 

My study of traditional yoga, which started in the early 2000s, brought me full circle to the realization that the whole purpose of yoga is to find bliss through meditation.  Stretching and exercising were good for my body, but that was a side benefit. The yoga approach to meditation was awesome.  However, the downside was all the asana, posture, and distraction. So, while I prefer to promote the yogic approach, I wanted to develop a Western way for quick results. So, with some yogic technique thrown in for good measure, check this out.

The Basics

It doesn’t get much simpler than this.

  1. Sit down or lay down in a comfortable low-stimulus environment and close your eyes.
  2. Count your breaths backward from 99.
  3. When you reach zero, open your eyes, stretch, and return to your life.

The Details

A Comfortable Position and Place

Once you master this meditation method, you can do it anywhere and anytime, but that takes practice. To get started, it’s important to reduce the environmental stimulus and get comfortable. Sitting comfortably for 20 minutes may be an oxymoron for the uninitiated, so lying down at first may be preferable. Pick a place other than your bed. Ideally, it would be on the floor with a small amount of padding, like a yoga mat.

Darken the room to reduce visual stimulation. Try to have a quiet place or use earplugs. You will learn to shut out the noise as you become more proficient. If cool or cold, use a blanket. If warm, dress down to stay cool. Place a pillow or bolster under the knees if your lower back is uncomfortable. With neck or upper back discomfort, you may want to elevate the head slightly with a blanket or a pillow. Let your arms drape about 12” from your body with palms facing up. Spread the feet about 12” apart. Use an eye pillow or mask if you are easily distracted by the light. 

You can also use soothing, relaxing music as an alternative to earplugs. Background music will cover most distractive noise and prevent an interruption to the meditation.

If you plan to do this seated, the ideal posture is a comfortable seated, cross-legged position on the floor. Place your hands on your knees and palms face up to receive energy and face down if you wish to be grounded. Close your eyes.


Take your first slow breath in, filling the lungs so the belly and chest rise. Raise your shoulders towards your ears.  Exhale, roll the shoulders back and down as you count this as breath 99. From here, count each full cycle of breath backward to zero.  

Sounds easy, right?

You’ll find out quickly that a tricky monkey is running around in your head, pushing your buttons, tweeting your brain, and reminding you of everything you ought to think about instead of not thinking. Like a three-year-old kid who won’t take his nap, this monkey refuses to stop messing with you.

At this point, you say, “Oh, where was I? Um, 98…OK. I guess I can’t meditate. Something must be wrong with me.”

It’s OK.  The mind is doing what it is meant to do naturally. It’s just that we’re going to slow it down a bit. We are going to start by treating our monkey-like newly met toddler. At first, we are just going to observe. Let the thoughts come and go. But don’t forget to keep counting. “Oh, a, 97.”

This monkey can sometimes be quite entertaining, with shopping list ideas, stuff we forgot to do at the office, and things we would rather be doing now. And darn, we forgot what number we were on. “OK, the last one I remembered is 97.” OK, start again there.

You may quit after never getting past 86 the first few times you try this. That’s OK.  We don’t call meditation a practice for no reason. Come back again in a few days and try again.

Why 99?

Beyond its numerological significance, a practiced yogi will average about five breaths per minute during this exercise. Breathing will be faster in the beginning and slower at the end. That means that the meditation, without interruptions from monkeys, will take about 20 minutes. And 20 minutes is a perfect meditation cycle time.  If you find yourself finishing faster than 20 minutes, start to practice taking in long breaths. Breathing deeper will make you more relaxed and ultimately more effective with your breathing.

To Sleep or Not to Sleep

One of the big questions the meditation initiate is confronted with is sleep. Is it OK or not? First, I would have given up on meditation if I had to stay awake. But I was blessed with an internal clock that, even if I fell asleep, I always completed the meditation in 20 minutes. But I also think that there is a possibility that this extremely deep sleep for only 20 minutes may be truly transcendent and maybe the equivalent of a blissful state.

How Often?

The frequency of meditation is up to you. I started my path with daily meditation. However, once I understood the results, I adapted my breathing and mental disposition to meditate in almost any situation. There are so many things we can do while meditating. Going for a walk and washing the dishes are just simple examples of bringing your meditative state to your daily activity.

Start experimenting. I think you will enjoy the immediate benefits.

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